yankee hockey

FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS

Posted in rulebook by yankhockey on March 10, 2009

The GMs are meeting in beautiful Florida right now discussing the state of the game. A lot has been made, both from the media and the GMs themselves, about the state of fighting in the game today. However, every time I read anything written by the non-hockey media it seems that the GMs and the reporters are speaking entirely different languages.

Anyone who says that there is a fighting problem in the NHL hasn’t been watching it for very long. In the Seventies a game wouldn’t go by without a couple fights breaking out. At the time teams were more goon then goal, and the difference between winning and losing was often determined with fisticuffs. The Eighties were better, but not by much. The difference in the Eighties, that spilled over into the Nineties, was the arrival of the European. Suddenly guys were more interested in scoring goals then breaking noses, and the nature of the game changed. But the turn of the century many teams were without a natural fighter and fans, both lifelong and casual, were treated to hockey where brains were preferred over brawn. However, the most successful teams were the ones who had a little bite in their game, and everyone took notice. The result is that the last three or four seasons has seen a rise in fighting. This might of been a surprise to someone who hadn’t been watching the game for long, but a pleasant return to the correct way of things to the die hard fan.

There have been a couple of incidents recently that have coloured fighting in a negative way. There have been a couple deaths due to fighting, and that’s always a sad, horrible thing. Those deaths have been exactly what proponents of removing it from the game have been waiting for. People have been warning for years that someone would get seriously injured, or killed. The thing is, fighting has been a part of hockey since nearly the beginning. It began because people were using sticks and skates as weapons on the ice. In fact, a trip in the way-back machine reveals that people were often killed in the first days of hockey because of those sticks. Fighting was introduced to make sure people had an outlet to release that agression in a safer way.

Now that people are less likely to kill each other on the ice many people believe that fighting can be removed. They think that if you take away fighting then you can attract some more fans. They are probably right, I’ve known many people who have expressed the violence in the game as the reason they won’t follow it. The thing is, the current fans love fighting. When there is a fight everyone in the arena is on their feet cheering. People love the fighters on the team, they are lauded for their endurance and passion.

The GMs are smart people with college degrees, they don’t want to take away any aspect of the game that the people who pay their salaries love. This is why I always have to laugh when some reporter outside the sport says that the GMs are talking about removing fighting from the game. Not if they value their jobs they won’t! They are talking about fighting, certainly. They want their players to be safe, and they don’t want it to get out of control, but they certainly want it in the game.

The NHLPA wants it to. For one, about a third of their members make their living off being fighters, if not all the time then enough to be considered tough guys. For two, another third of the members are finesse guys who don’t want to be a moving target on the ice to be hit, slashed, and poked at will. Knowing that you can get punched is a great deterrent to being a pest on the ice. No one likes getting punched, even fighters.

I’m not stupid enough to believe that fighting is still necessary in the game, but fighting is as much a part of hockey as the inside pitch is in baseball. It’s so integral that even non-fighters get involved. Markus Naslund, a Swedish sniper, dropped the gloves the other day. What the GMs do in regards to fighting is try to make sure it’s done responsibly, and with the least chance of injury possible. Of course it can be done, if it couldn’t then boxing, wrestling, and that mixed martial arts garbage would all be outlawed. Making fighting safer is something we can all support.

Toronto GM Brian Burke said it best as he talked about requiring helmets to stay on.

“We can fix a broken hand,” he said, “But we can’t necessarily fix a brain injury.”

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PENALTY KILL

Posted in rulebook, Vancouver by yankhockey on February 17, 2009

Something unusual happened tonight; Kyle Wellwood of the Vancouver Canucks was called for a penalty. What’s so unusual about that you ask? Wellwood hasn’t been charged with a penalty since 2006, a total of 159 games played without a single infraction. How can a player accomplish a thing like that in today’s NHL? There’s so many things that can be called. It’s not simply a matter of being disciplined and not hitting a guy wrong or grabbing onto his jersey. Someone could knock your stick up into another players face, that’s a penalty. You could accidentally get your stick between another player’s legs, that’s a penalty. You could be spreading your legs to steady yourself and accidentally clip another players knees, that’s a penalty. Hell, you could even get a penalty for a second false start in a row on a face-off. And yet, despite the many many ways to head to the box in the NHL… Wellwood has managed to keep himself out for an incredible period of time. Maybe he had a whole stack of get out of jail free cards, I dunno.

What I do know is that having a reputation for not taking penalties surely helped. The officials in the NHL are very smart and know the players they ref better then those players would like. Officials know which players are prone to dives, which players are prone to dirty play, and yes, which players are clean as a whistle. Maybe Chris Pronger takes a penalty every time his hand leaves his stick, but that’s Chris Pronger. Refs know that Wellwood doesn’t take penalties, so they give him the benefit of the doubt.

This might sound a bit cheesy to people who aren’t used to the NHL. Rules are rules right? And rules should always be followed shouldn’t they? The NHL has an interesting take on the rules. Sure, some things always have to be called. You always have to call a high stick if you spot it, you always have to call boarding, you always have to call fighting, delay of game, and slashing. But the thing that makes the NHL really interesting, and quite a bit more fun, is you don’t always have to call tripping, roughing, interference, goaltender interference, holding, or things like that. Anyone who follows the game closely will tell you that a cross check at center ice is far different from a cross check in front of the goaltender. Likewise, interference away from the puck is different from interference at the puck.

Hockey, basketball, and football are ruled by refs. Unfortunately football and basketball are also often ruined by them. It’s the strictness of the rules that starts to break down the game. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make sure that players are safe, as most rules in any sport are there to make sure players don’t get hurt, but it’s the really dumb rules like trying to figure out whether the quarterback’s arm was going through a passing motion or not that just bog everything down. Like I said, hockey refs are smart. They understand that the principle behind hockey is first and foremost entertainment. They know exactly when a penalty will be entertaining, and when it will ruin the flow of play. As long as players are playing safe, and the game is going strong, who cares if someone takes their hand off the stick or runs a little pick, or maybe nudges the goaltender a little bit. All that just make the game a little more exciting.

The officials in hockey are really smart. I know I keep saying that but it continues to be true. Ever see a group of refs swallow the whistle for the last three minutes of play? If it’s a close or tied game they’ll just let the teams go at it. It’s so exciting to see your team either try to keep the lead or tie the game in the last few minutes when the refs take themselves out of it. Bodies are flying everywhere, hitting everything that moves, throwing other players out of the way. Hockey is a real struggle, and the last minutes of the game should exemplify that. They shouldn’t be filled with whistles and penalties, no one wants to see that, we want to see the players playing as hard as they can without fear of putting their team one man short. The same is true in overtime, overtime power-plays are annoying, and that’s no way to end the game for either team. Hockey fans love to see two evenly matched opponents play to the highest level of their abilities to try to get those extra points. Of course, as I said earlier, there are those calls that need to be made, regardless of where the game happens to be. It doesn’t matter if you’re team is down one and already on a penalty kill, if you get your stick into the face of another player you are going into the box because people have to be kept safe on the ice.

There’s a bit of an understanding between players and refs about what is kosher and what is not, and often the tone is set early in the game. If the refs are worried that the two teams meeting are going to be playing too rough they’ll call a lot of questionable penalties early to let the teams know to keep it legit. If there’s a lot of good back and forth going on and the teams are pulling out scoring chances on every rush the refs understand that to slow it down by calling soft penalties would be a real shame and let them play.

Since the lockout there have been a few changes to the way the game is called. For one, interference and holding are called more often, and that’s fine by me. One thing that’s not so fine by me though is how they call diving. I like that they’ve added a diving penalty, what I don’t like is that I’ve never seen one that hasn’t followed a penalty called for the infraction which the player dived to embellish. I think if the dive is obvious enough that you can call a player for do it then you must believe that what the other player was doing to him was too slight to have meritted a penalty alone. Don’t reward the diver by taking a player from the opposing team off with him, that just doesn’t make any sense.

FIGHT CLUB

Posted in rulebook by yankhockey on February 5, 2009

There’s been a helluva lotta talk in the NHL about fighting.  Is it necessary? Or is it a hold over from a more barbaric age?

I’m not entirely a hockey purist, and I don’t come from old hockey stock. I fell into hockey rather late in life. That doesn’t make me any less of a fan, and listening to other fans, fans from such hockey towns as Detroit and Vancouver, I think that I have at least as much insight and love for the game as people born and bred into it. I say this because I want you to understand that when I say I support fighting in hockey I do so not because I want to watch a blood sport, but because I believe that fighting in hockey is much more then just two men throwing punches at each other. I believe it is an essential element to the game.

Let’s get something out of the way real quick: Fighting in hockey is never, ever about sucker punching somebody, or taking them by surprise. You may have heard a little something about “The Code”. The Code is the unwritten set of rules that govern hockey fights. For one, you never fight an unwilling player. You never punch with your gloves on. And you always stop if you knock someone out. This is a strict code, and though occasionally people stray, the players who make their living as fighters never do. Don’t believe me? Just listen to what Georges Laraque, one of the heaviest of the heavies, says to his opponent before a bout in this video:

Good luck he says!

The other thing that has to be debunked right away is that these guys are really hurting each other. The image of bare-knuckled brawls certainly does make one think of real danger, but in hockey situations it is preferable. Hockey gloves are not boxing gloves. Their padding is think and hard. Their knuckles are made out of leather, and what do you think happens to leather that gets wet and then dries over and over and over again? Especially when it is wet in freezing conditions? Not only are hockey gloves cement hard, they get cracks in the leather that can cut like glass. No, bare fisted is definitely preferable. Not only that, but trying to fight while covered in pads while slipping on ice makes it very hard to land solid punches. Even when punches look solid, because of the lack of friction on the ice, they are pushing against the opponent more then contacting them violently. Though a fighter will occasionally leave the bout with a bloodied nose or mouth, the most common damage is to the hands. These guys are throwing bare clenched fists at pads and helmets which often result in cuts and bruises to the knuckles.

The reason I support fighting in hockey is because of the strategy of it. These guys are told to go out there and hit everything wearing another color. Most of the talented goal scoring type players and not heavy hitters, and if the other team is allowed to run at them all game without repercussions then you stand to lose your best players either to injury or fear of touching the puck. By allowing players to fight you make it so that the other team is a little hesitant to attack your best players for fear of retribution. Many people in the hockey know suggest that fighting actually lessens the chance of injuries, and I tend to agree. People who disagree point to college and international play as examples where there is both no fighting, and less injuries, but this is a fallacy. Hitting in international leagues is far far less then it is in the NHL. Leagues in places like Russia, who created the finesse team, crack down much more on hitting. What might be a clean hit here could easily be called a penalty there. As for college, players there are wearing full face masks (something the NHL might start thinking about), and no one wants to be the thug on the college team. College players know that if they want to play in the pros it’s got to be earned through skill. Thugs will be coming from Canadian major junior leagues, not US college teams.

The best way to illustrate how the NHL is different from international leagues is the occurrence of fighting between international players that occurs here. I’ve seen on numerous occasions Swedish player Mattias Ohlund drop the gloves and fight as well as any Canadian boy. North America breeds a different sort of player, the kind of player that just wants to win and will do so by any means allowed. In Europe they may be happy to make stunning passing plays and dekes, but here the only thing that counts is the W in the standings. Many European players that come here stick to their fancy ways, and are very entertaining. But others, players like Ohlund, or even Alexander Ovechkin, understand that being scary to play against is as important as being tough to play against.

In all the years of fighting in the NHL, and it’s been every year, there have been no deaths, and few debilitating injuries. I have a feeling it will happen eventually. It happened recently in a senior league in Canada, which is very unfortunate. But that’s all it is, unfortunate. These guys are throwing 230 pounds of muscles at each other at thirty miles on hour on ice while wearing blades and firing a hard rubber disk at speeds up to 100 miles per hour with a four foot long stick, I really don’t think taking a couple moderate punches to the helmet is really going to do much harm to anyone.

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TIE ME DOWN

Posted in predictions, rulebook by yankhockey on January 19, 2009

First off I’d like to apologize for the late post… due to circumstances beyond my control I was unable to finish my article last night, but here it is in all its final glory!

You’d be hard pressed to find anything the NHL has done in the last ten years that I don’t like. Nets behind the goals maybe, but I can live with that. But there is one change that I absolutely cannot stand: shootouts.

I was never once bothered with games ending in ties. I always found it kind of quaint, and it made the game seem a little more classic. You might be surprised to know that pretty much every sport allowed for ties, even baseball, until one-by-one they all changed. Football still allows ties, though they are rare, and soccer (or English football) still allows for ties, and I thought that it made sense in hockey too. I did think it was a good idea to guarantee a point to inspire teams to fight hard in the overtime for that extra point, and I liked it when they dropped it to four on four, but shootouts are really beginning to get on my nerves. I’ll admit, at first it was kinda fun watching shootouts, there was some excitement to be had. But now they are really starting to show what they really are… bush league.

Ok, so if you don’t want games to end in ties, I can understand that. Get rid of the guaranteed one point, lengthen the overtime to ten minutes, and I promise you someone will get the winning goal. Shootouts may be exciting, but not nearly as exciting as winning in overtime. You ever watch overtime playoff hockey? It’s the most exciting sporting event in the world. It’s a whole period, five on five, except the very first goal wins. You ever see playoff hockey in the third or fourth overtime? I have, best games I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Potting that sudden death goal is the most exciting play in hockey, and something the league should take advantage of more.

I realize that players are tired and just want to get off the ice. Hockey is draining sport to play, especially when you figure the game should have already ended. In the playoffs it’s not as big of a deal because players are willing to play their hardest as long as it takes, but in the regular season, once the game goes into overtime they can start to drag their feet a bit. Regardless, I think if you really want to fix overtime, ten minutes four-on-four will probably do it. If not, ten more minutes three-on-three.

I guess the biggest problem I have with it is that you actually don’t need a game to end in a win. With the guaranteed point, teams are losing in the shootout but still climbing the standings. It doesn’t really make much sense. The reason they added that point is that teams would enter the five minute overtime and skate around like it was a light practice because they were happy with just the point. If they scored, all the better, but mostly they just defended that single point. By guaranteeing that one point that got teams interested in fighting for the second point, and it kinda worked too. But extending the overtime period will solve both the problem with ending on a tie, and relieve the need for that ghost point. Because one team will almost certainly score a goal in those ten minutes four-on-four, teams will be more concerned with scoring it first, rather then defending their own goal in the hope of a tie. But even if the game does end in a tie… so what? I don’t think any possible hockey fans have ever been turned away because of the possibility of a tie. If they are, they can go be basketball fans, I don’t care.

Ties in hockey are part of its charm, and we should bring them back. Shootouts scream exhibition, and I think it’s weak that we have to witness them over and over and over.

PREDICTION OF THE WEEK:

Instead of my normal Question of the Week, I’ve decided, in honor of the huge layoff because of the All-Star Game, to predict the score instead.

With better goaltending on both side this year I think the scoring will be lower then in years past. I think that Ovechkin will be the difference maker scoring two goals.

My prediction, West 5 – East 6

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WHO RULES THE NHL

Posted in rulebook, What Going Right by yankhockey on October 22, 2008

For the most part I think the NHL is well policed. The rules all work together very nicely, and the officials don’t miss too many calls. Not only that, unlike every other sport, the officials get to decide whether to let the teams play or call it close, which I believe gives hockey an additional level of excitement. But there is one rule that hasn’t once been called right since it was created: the diving rule.

According to rule 52, added to the rule book for the 2005-06 season:

  • A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who attempts to draw a penalty by his actions (“diving”).
  • Regardless if a minor penalty for diving is called, Hockey Operations will review game videos and assess fines to players who dive or embellish a fall or a reaction, or who feign injury.
  • The first such incident will result in a warning letter being sent to the player, the second such incident will result in a $1,000 fine, the third such incident will result in a $2,000 fine and the fourth such incident will result in a one-game suspension.
  • And that’s all well and good, but it’s not really ever called right. The practice in the NHL is to call one player for diving, and then a player from the other team for the infraction that the player diving was embellishing. My question to the NHL refs is; how does calling it that way discourage divers? So what you’re telling me is that, if I’m Derek Boogaard and I make like Jarome Iginla has just tripped me, I can take him off the ice during a four-on-four situation? Bullshit.

    There are some people (I’m talking about you Don Cherry) who like to claim that this is a softy European phenomenon. I’m definitely not one of those people. I’ve seen Todd Bertuzzi dive so many times I figured he was hallucinating he was at the pool. And dare I mention Syd the Kid’s penchant for falling at a feather’s touch? It affects all-stars as well as also-rans, and it’s shameful nature is the reason that a specific rule was created to make it illegal.

    The problem, of course, is that whether a player has dived or not is a judgment call. Refs don’t want to get it wrong so they play it safe and send both players to the box. I understand that, but I think that may even encouraging diving. Look, hockey fans hate seeing soccer flops on the ice, and we all know one or two players from rival teams that do it all the time (our own teams, of course, are clean as a freshly bathed baby). If you start calling it straight diving, with no call on the opposing player, maybe you’ll miss a few, but you’ll also encourage players to stay on their skates instead of allowing themselves to fall. There’s nothing more frustrating then watching one of your favourite players fall to the ice looking for a call that isn’t coming and then not being in the play to cover his man who ends up scoring a goal. At the same time there is nothing that makes you prouder as a hockey fan than to see one of your favourite players fight through the hook and actually get the call because the ref saw his effort.

    Diving is occurs all over the place in the NHL. Look you guys, you’re gigantic men pushing each other around on ice, we know that falls occur, as do real penalties. But we’re smart fans, the smartest in fact. We know when you act like a fish freshly caught writhing on the floor of a boat that you’re faking it, and we don’t like it.

    The GMs are meeting tomorrow and they will surely be talking about rule changes. First off, please don’t widen the nets, this isn’t soccer and we don’t need to pump up players stats that much. Secondly, figure out how to correctly call the diving penalty so we won’t see any more of these ridiculous calls.

    WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

    This week, it’s American hockey. Ryan Miller is keeps on winning. Ryan Kesler is the best player on the Canucks right now. Mike Modano is scoring goals like his younger self. And how about Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel and Zach Parise? USA hockey is going to have a hard time leaving out anyone from their Olympic roster if the Americans keep playing this way. And as an American writing about hockey, well, I’m damn proud. Teach ’em how it’s played boys!

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